This is another one of those "Cautionary Tale/ Don't Be Like I Was" posts. :)
As most people who have heard me would surmise, I am fascinated with pulling as many colours out of the drum set as possible, and have devoted a fair amount of time to this. That's all well and good, but it's important to know when and where esoteric sounds fit the music. I remember one time a great trumpet player in Regina, Ron Brooks, telling me that I wasn't "minding the store". I'd like to say that I immediately took his comment to heart, and worked on being as solid, as I was being colourful, but I was young and foolish. (As a sidebar, let's all give thanks to the more experienced musicians in smaller communities all over the world that guide, encourage, and tolerate younger players!) It took me a long time to realize what he meant. Listening, as always, is key. Not only listening to great examples, of solid, groovy, and often deceptively simple playing, but also listening to the band that one is playing with. It's always good to ask yourself, "Is the band getting what it needs to do its job?" "Does the beat feel firm, or am I not giving the band confidence in the time?" I'm not suggesting anyone not to try to explore interesting sounds and shapes, but as with all things, balance and taste is the key.
Here's a great example of someone who really explored the drums, but never at the expense of groove and feel. Mr. Blakey!
NOTE: The last couple of weeks have featured recordings with Wayne Shorter, yet these posts were written long before his passing. It just goes to show what a huge force in music he's been to all of us!
As I've mentioned before, playing to recordings is the closest we can get to performing with actual live musicians. I make "playing along" a regular part of my practice, and I would like to share a few thoughts relating to that…...
1. Don't only play along to what you already do well.
This may seem obvious, but it's easy to get lured into exclusively playing with recordings with feels/tempos/forms that are comfortable. Stretch yourself! If speed is your thing, play along with slow tempos. If you usually play along with Country-Rock, learn a fusion tune etc. And more about forms….
2. Try to play with whole tunes rather than loops.
I've mentioned this before, and I don't want to step on anyone's toes around this, but I feel playing with loops never gives us the whole story. By loops I mean just taking a small section of an already existing tune and have it playing endlessly. When we do this we miss out on a lot of form. Not only the structure of the tune (AABA, 12 Bar Blues etc.) but the form of the whole performance. How do we differentiate between sections of the song like in head to solos, different solos, and last solo to out head? Does the tempo of the tune change from beginning to end? What about the relative volume of the drums at differing sections of the tune? These are important issues!
3. Try to play with contained passion.
By this I mean, always remember when you're playing with recordings your first job is to keep in sync. Your second job is to outline the shape of the tune ( see above ). It's very easy to play loud enough that you drown out the recording and get out of time. It's also easy to focus on the spectacular drumming of whoever is on the original recording and not pay attention to the form soloists etc. Additionally, getting the intensity required for the performance with less volume is a great thing to strive for.
4. Do not obsess about details
I mentioned this briefly in #3. Especially when playing with Jazz recordings, try to get the essence of the performance rather than the minutia. The feel, relative mix of your four limbs, and structural elements (see #2) are more important than playing EXACTLY what has been played. If you like, go ahead and learn exactly what was played, but realize that's a separate endeavour.
5. Play along to quantized and unquantized material.
Definitely work with material that was created with a click track, sequencers, or drum machines. In fact the art to playing loosely along with music that has some sort of machine keeping the tempo exactly the same is challenging indeed. Steve Jordan, Phil Collins, and JR Robinson are some of the players that have mastered this approach.
However, playing music that was recorded "without a net", which basically means any recordings before the 1970s, requires us to "ride the wave" of the time. When humans play music without an artificial timekeeper like a metronome, there are all sorts of little micro peaks and valleys in the time. There is nothing wrong with this, in fact this is what gives a lot of music its humanity. Even recordings that noticeably speed up or slow down are okay to play along with, as long as we're aware of this and it isn't the only way we work on keeping time.
In conclusion, let's listen to Elvin Jones on Wayne Shorter's Night Dreamer where Mr. Jones manages to keep his lovely laid back feel even though the tune also speeds up! It almost seems like he's defying gravity, but this is just one of the many things we love about Elvin! :)
UPDATE: Todd Bishop at Cruise Ship Drummer wrote a very thoughtful post explaining his use of loops in his teaching method as well as his personal practice, and I agree with his points completely. He also mentions the limits of playing to recordings vs. live playing, which I will address as well in a future post. Thanks Todd, you rock (and swing!)
So, recently I heard a great Pipe and Drum band here in Guelph. I just loved how lightly and fleetly they played. Also what was interesting was that even though the instrumentation was only the pipes, bass, tenor and snare drum, it was a very full and complete sound. Even more interestingly, because all the tonality was over a drone (sounded like C to me) it almost sounded like the bass and tenor drums were tuned to that pitch. Any Pipe band people who can clarify this for me?
Anyway, this experience got me thinking of other drum systems "across the pond" and I started fooling around with Swiss Army Triplets (RRL or LLR with a flam at the beginning.) I combined this with a 3-5-7-9 grouping exercise I borrowed from guitar great Reg Schwager and came up with this…..
Notice that once you get past the 3 subdivision the rudiment starts going over the barline which gives it an interesting sound. Here's me playing it. Sorry the click isn't louder. Believe me, it was blowing my head off when I was filming. :)
So, for this hybrid rudiment, I came up with the very-not-gimmicky name Swiss Army Knife Triplets. I don't know if I can claim this exercise is as useful as a Swiss army knife, but it is excellent for timing and concentration. Have fun and be good to yourselves!
Here's another straight vs. swung brush pattern, very creatively named, "Straight Vs. Swung #2"!
No, please, we must continue……….
In both versions I filmed (one on the snare, and the other one divided between the toms) the right hand is sweeping straight 8ths, the downbeats heading to the right and away from us, the brush on the head the whole time. The left hand is also constantly on the drum and is making clockwise circles in the "Jazz quarter note triplet" rhythm.
The other day I was watching another instalment of John Christopher's great interview show, Live From My Drum Room, this episode was with Clem Burke. ( See below.)
It's a great interview in general, but one of the things I twigged onto was when Mr. Burke mentioned that often when he's playing hand to hand 16th notes on the hi-hat, he leads with his left hand. Like Clem Burke, I am a left handed person playing a right handed drum set up, so when I first started playing, I would play 16th notes this way myself. I later trained myself to play this idea the "conventional way", meaning playing the down beats with my right hand, but this interview got me thinking….
If one plays a hi-hat pattern with both hands and leads right handed, all the backbeats on the snare drum (meaning beats 2 & 4) are played with the right hand but in almost any other situation, this is played with the left hand. I've always found it challenging to get the same sound on the snare with my right hand as with my left, and if one isn't leaving the hi-hat that much, I find moving over to the snare much more comfortable with my left hand. So, I started experimenting with this, and even trying beats where the the toms or cymbals are involved. I'll enclose some examples to try below but generally I found if we consider the LH facing "in" in this situation and the RH facing "out' , as most RH players turn to their left slightly when using both hands on the HH, beats where upbeats are played on the "outer" part of the drum set work better with left hand lead, and rhythms with downbeats on the toms and/or cymbals work well the other way around.
Before we get to the examples I've written, a great way to practice this is to play along with the song Clem Burke made famous, Blondie's classic "Heart of Glass" .Even though the original groove is mainly 8th notes played with the right hand, you'll notice most of the fills are left hand lead, so it's a perfect song to introduce oneself to the concept. You can even try it with 16ths on the hi-hats with your left hand leading, as it's not too fast and the hands don't move around that much. Check it out.
And as promised, here's a couple of ideas where the hands are moving around a bit more.
My apologies for the "natural font', I just jotted these down in a hurry. The open note with a dot in the middle is the snare, everything else should be self-explanatory. Examples 1 & 2 are left-hand lead, 3 & 4 lead with the right. For extra practise, try a bar of either 1 or 2 followed by a bar of 3 or 4, sticking in a double stroke near the end of the bar to change the hand leading. I find this greatly increases flexibility with this, and then the decision of whether to lead 16ths with the right or left is purely a matter of what works best for the particular piece one is playing. Have fun!
P.S. The inclusion of "Heart of Glass" the day before Valentine's Day is no reflection on my current personal life or my strong belief in love! Have a great day tomorrow everyone!
The current population of Sydney Australia is about 5 million people, which may seem like a lot, but the current world population is 8 billion. What does this have to do with these wise words from Mr. Big Foot? Well, current estimates tell us that there are approximately 5 million drummers in the world. Again, that may seem like a large number but it actually accounts of only 0.06% of the world's population, like Sydney compares to the rest of the world. In other words, individuals like us that can create magic with 2 pieces of lumber and make inanimate circles of wood and metal sing are quite rare indeed. You are special and what you do is unique and needed in the world. Keep at it! :)
It's interesting. I don't have much patience for excessive drama in my personal life, but I often feel like it's lacking in some drumming. What do I mean by this? Oxford defines drama as an exciting, emotional, or unexpected series of events or set of circumstances. So, to keep an audience engaged, let's think about ways we can create these types of events or circumstances.
1.Dynamics! Dynamics! Dynamics!
The drums have a massive dynamic range, and we rarely use the extremes, or vary them as much as we could.
2. Strength of time feel
The music doesn't reach its full potential if the time feel is off. If it's erratic or sluggish, it will lack the intensity to be truly dramatic.
3. Use of space!
Music becomes dull if we always play with the same density of sound. Just because we can play super fast and use all 4 limbs doesn't mean we should all the time! Using space in the music creates interest.
4. Clarity of ideas
If we are telling the story of the music without unnecessary ornamentation we can get our point across much more effectively. Better storytelling = more excitement.
5. Big Picture Thinking
If we are just thinking about playing an impressive lick rather than the architecture of the tune/solo/set/evening of music/recording in it's totality, the whole thing isn't going to hold together very well, and thus will lack, you guessed it, drama!
So, next time you play, think about how you can create more drama. Just leave it on the bandstand though.
I recently played a couple of wonderful nights with Peter Hum's quartet at the Rex, and Kenji Omae, our great Tenor Sax player, filmed one of Peter's new compositions, Radical Acceptance. I thought I would post a chart of the composition as well as the video and I would go through how I approached playing this tune.
Probably the most important thing to mention is the form.It's quite interesting because on the in head the from is ABCD and then E is Tenor and Guitar trading over the solo chord changes. Then when they cue us we play the tune in the reverse order (DCBA) and ends with the piano vamp it starts with. So it's got this great construction that I would liken to a flower that opens in the morning, blooms all day, and then closes its petals at the end of the day. The fact that I'm referring to a composition this way may sound "flowery" , but I often find imagery can help me conceptualize a piece and figure out how to approach it. So basically, I was trying to grow and build the piece all the way to the end of the solo section at E and then gradually bring it back down to where it started.
As I stated, the piece starts with solo piano playing a rhythmic vamp. I basically tried to incorporate and riff around that rhythm into the groove I was playing. It also felt like I should generally play all the 8th notes in the bar with my right hand, to give it some drive. Also, on reflection, it sounds a little far on top of the beat for my taste, but it least it feels exciting!
This generally goes well. Then we get to D. During that section (with the 3 bar phrases) Peter wanted it to have a little more space. I am also generally filling in the 3rd measure of all those phrases. Then I make my first error! I missed the repeat at D and went back to more of a groove again the 2nd time. But I played the figures as well and I don't think anyone was the wiser, although it made letter D slightly less effective. (I assure you, these sort of things happen all the time. The trick is to cover for them as smoothly as possible.)
Then we go on to E which has tenor and guitar playing the melody before they start trading phrases over the same chords for the solo section. I bring the volume and density down into this section to give some room for it to grow. I start off the solo section relatively quiet and playing mainly short sounds and avoid cymbals to create more space for the tenor and guitar. At around 2:22 I go back to the groove I was playing at the beginning but with the intend of gradually getting busier and louder as the solos go on. Shortly after this I turn the snares on the snare drum (for the first time in this tune) to further build the energy. As the solo section goes on, I'm filling more and playing more soloistically, even as I am still listening to the tenor/guitar and supporting them with the groove. Eventually, I settle into a bit of a pseudo-backbeat sort of thing, (around 3:30) because it feels like a good way to add energy and drama. As the trades get shorter I'm also trying to keep building. With soloists this strong, it's easy to "run out of gas" chops-wise, so it's good to take one's time building volume and density. At around 5:16, I mistakenly think letter D has been cued, when it's actually the ensemble section at letter E instead. Again, I adjust and move on. Nobody's perfect! :) When we do get to letter D, my volume has already dropped somewhat, as I'm trying to take us back to the sparse quite sound we had at the top of the tune. I then go back to my original groove and keep bringing it down by going to the hi-hat, also keeping the backbeat on the cross stick to keep the urgency up while still coming down dynamically, finally going to the side of the cymbal with the right hand to bring it down even more to the end.
I hope you find this helpful. It's great to get a chance to interpret someone's original music. It often can be less intimidating than playing standard tunes that have been played spectacularly by geniuses many times! :) Feel free to try multiple ways of interpreting a tune. There are always options and it sometimes may take a bit of trial and error to find the way that works for you. As always, have fun and be good to yourselves. :)
Really the title of this post is just a swanky way of categorizing a brush technique where the brush is "rolled" on the drum with the palm of the hand. I've used this idea before but I'm trying to put it in a few more contexts, as shown below……
1. This is a beat with the RH rolling the brush and the LH playing the skip beat of the standard jazz ride rhythm in a clockwise circle.
2. In this example I'm rolling the LH brush (sorry it's difficult to see) on the skip beat and alternating that with "Buzzing" the LH off the rim. RH circles quarter notes clockwise.
3. Here I'm playing a sort of Samba (w/ varying bd parts) and rolling the LH on the +s of 1 & 3.
4. Finally I'm rolling both hands (sorry the floor tom is out of view) to the melody of "C Jam Blues".
Just keep in mind it's an important step in developing techniques that we find practical places to use them. Have fun!
Many may not agree with me here, but I feel one advantage horn players have over guitarists, pianists, and drummers is that it is very difficult, if not impossible to play more than a note at a time.. As a result, people who play these instruments get very good at implying harmony through their choice of notes in a line. But pianists and drummers can play very thickly, and tend to get obsessed with layering of notes and rhythms. I am guilty of this on both these instruments!
I was doing a grant application and was going through some video of my band from about a year ago. The performances were good but I felt myself saying , "Well, that's a lot of drums, but what does it mean?" and " There seems to be a lot of the same texture of sound throughout this performance". So, I have been thinking about and experimenting with playing a lot less at times, and making sure there are sparse textures as well as thick ones. I find myself finding this issue with other players as well. It seems to be the hip thing these days to crowd as much drums and cymbals as possible into the music, and I'm getting a little sick of it, to be frank.
Here's a great example of a mainly melodic rather than harmonic solo from the great Shelly Manne. Enjoy!
There is a lot of mythology surrounding instrumentalist's practice. I recall reading about legendary players and their infamous practice regimes, and thinking that I had to get into that "8 hours a day, for a start" vibe, otherwise I wasn't going to amount to anything! Truth be told, I have never gotten past about 4 hours at a stretch, or 6 in a day with breaks. I also find a lot of people overestimate or underestimate the amount they put in on their instrument. Played along with music for an hour today? As long as you were aware etc. while you were doing it, I would count that as practice! Staring at a hole in your shoe during hour 10 through 11 of your daily routine? I would contend there may be better ways to spend your time. In fact, the level of engagement, rather than amount of time, is how I currently gage my practice time. For the past 10 years or so, it's a rare day I get beyond an hour of practice, and currently a lot of my sessions are a half hour long. Yet I still feel like I've made a lot of progress. Why?
1. I do practice almost every single day
Even though the individual sessions are quite short, I find I give my body and mind a lot of chances to process the information.
2. I tend to review what I last did
As well, the last thing I worked tends to lay the groundwork for the next thing I do. It's almost like a lifetime of thematic playing!
3. I don't practice too many things
Often a practice session will be around a single idea or issue
Finally, it's important to realize that one's practice routine evolves over the course of one's life. This current routine I have would probably not be enough for an intermediate or college level player. There's simply too many things to learn and do, and most players at this age haven't even figured out what type of player they'll eventually be. I.E. I don't spend a lot of time working double bass drum chops or stick twirling, and that's entirely a conscious decision! So when figuring out how to practice, look at where you're at and what you need, and don't be afraid to tweak it if you're not finding it effective.
I think I've mentioned this before, but I still spend time looking for new sounds, colours, and techniques at the drums. At the stage demonstrated below I'm not looking at what to do with the things I find. In fact, some of them I never find a practical use for. That doesn't concern me though. I also am not trying to make this smooth or palatable or any sort of "performance". The journey is the goal. Here's some video of me trying a few things out…..